The Futility Monster

He'll pointlessly derive more enjoyment out of your resources than you

Posts Tagged ‘economy’

We Just Don’t Need That Many Graduates (In Arts)

Posted by The Futility Monster on July 24, 2010 @ 10:22

Mean. But not far wide of the mark...

We are always told that the British economy needs graduates to survive. It does. But those who advocate such a line typically gloss over the fine details.

When you put degrees under the microscope, and the fact that in each year that passes the number of overall graduates continues to soar, the equation no longer adds up.

In the globalised economy, Britain needs to stay competitive. There is no alternative any more if we want to sustain the trend of rising quality of life for all.

To stay competitive, Britain does indeed need highly-educated, highly-qualified and highly-skilled graduates. But not just graduates in any old tat. Golf course management, no. Politics? Not on your nellie. These courses simply do not provide a marketable skill distinctive from each other. The result is an agglomeration of graduates, ostensibly highly-educated and qualified, but with nothing really that makes the big employers get excited.

The achievement of Progress (TM) from one generation to the next invariably comes from breakthroughs in science and technology. Such talent can almost always only come to fruition via a pathway of education. The road to the future is paved with the efforts of physicists, chemists, biologists, mathematicians… doctors, researchers, engineers. It doesn’t come from the accountants, the lawyers, the stockbrokers, the bankers, the lobbyists.

There is always a requirement for leaders, creative/critical thinkers, and visionaries. There is always a need for people to teach the scientists of the future. And there is always the need for a huge amount of other people to support this technocratic visionary society. And lest we not forget the need for cultural stimulation, in stories, music, paintings, sculptures and so on. But how many of these need a degree?

Of course, this argument ignores the obvious, that university is not all supposed to be about what you can offer an employer, and it would be a loss if we were to focus purely on economic output all the time. It’s supposed to be about the love of learning, and about the sheer joy of indulging in your specialist field. And getting drunk along the way. It is as much of a development as a person as it is finding your niche in the workplace. I don’t deny any of that.

But my worry is this.

The system now is designed to put young people on a degree course. Any degree. It doesn’t matter. A degree will guarantee you future earnings. It is your passport to a golden career. That’s what I was told eight years ago.

Schools and careers advisers are selling something that no longer exists. Back in the day when a much smaller proportion of the population had a degree, just having one was a sign of quality for an employer. A shorthand that allowed them to think you were worthy of a job. Now so many more people have them, employers have to drill down that much deeper.

And that means your general arts degrees in English, history, and the newer fields of business studies, politics, etc. no longer open the doors that they used to.

There simply isn’t the graduate jobs market that we think there is for them. And it’s raising a whole generation of people who are feeling pretty let down by their elders, who we trusted, and were supposed to have known better.

Mix all that with a little recession…


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We’re All In This Together… Unless You’re A Business

Posted by The Futility Monster on June 23, 2010 @ 09:31

Aren't they a happy lot?

We’ve had many pro-business budgets in the past, but this one truly went out of its way to suck it up to them. After all, when was the last time you heard the CBI gush with such force about a government:

The Chancellor has achieved his twin objectives of setting out a credible plan for the public finances and producing a convincing growth strategy for the longer-term

Oh, yes, George! And all this before anything has actually changed yet.

It’s simple. There isn’t a single thing in the Budget that would have any negative impact on the business community. What’s that about VAT, you say? But most businesses, certainly the ones that employ people, claim back all input VAT anyway. And giving them till next January to plan for it eases the burden even further.

It’s those businesses that are more than one-man bands that are going to revel most in the plan to cut small companies’ corporation tax to 20%. And those medium and bigger businesses will also benefit from the year on year falls in corporation tax.

Then there is the changes to NI, which included a minor change to the thresholds, a reversing of Labour’s planned NI rise on employers, and an incentive scheme to encourage businesses to employ people outside the South East and London by reducing employers’ NI to zero on the first ten employees.

Meanwhile, the Capital Gains Tax rise on those who enjoy these kind of things was much less than it should have been, and George Osborne greatly improved an allowance for “entrepreneurs”, now allowing them to dispose of businesses at a very generous CGT rate of 10% below £5m.

Yes, banks are being hit… but even they didn’t seem too bothered. Very small ones will be exempted, and to them it may be a small price worth paying for the fact that they wouldn’t be in existence today but for the government. Furthermore, many of them are likely to play ball, keeping their powder dry for the bigger battle regarding breaking them up into smaller entities.

In other words, the totality of this package is the coalition saying to the private sector: we’ve done our bit, now get us out of this mess.

The question really is whether private sector growth is going to come roaring back to such an extent that it will make up for the withdrawal of 25% of the budget in all departments bar health and international development. It is also whether those cuts, which will affect public sector jobs, public sector wages and many private sector contracted-out jobs which rely on the public sector, will affect people’s spending and consumption. Coupled with the VAT rise, it simply has to.

George Osborne’s gamble appears to be that the public and private sector are in a zero-sum game. That’s a big enough risk on its own, without even considering the fact that the private sector is really not ready, willing or even able to prop up this stagnant economy.

Hold onto your hats…

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Labour’s Last Budget. For Now.

Posted by The Futility Monster on March 24, 2010 @ 11:43

The end of Darling, perhaps? The possibilities of the next few months are varied and exciting!

So here we are again. Another non-eventful Budget Day. After all, with comprehensive spending rounds, ordinary spending reviews, pre-Budget Reports and endless briefing and leaking, hardly any of what we hear today will be a surprise.

To fill the void, the networks have to do something. Invariably, this is endless speculation, combined with the classic “let’s visit a marginal constituency and do some random vox pops”. And, naturally, the “average family” will have their numbers crunched, and discover that the rise in price of wine is going to plunge them into deficit for financial year 10/11.

That’s all I’ve witnessed so far, in my flicking between BBC and Sky News. And now, the liveblog, as it happened, in chronological order…

11:42 – BBC talking to someone who set up business during a recession. Madness, said the reporter. Sounds about right, from my experience!

11:45 – Kay Burley emoting on Sky News as she feeds the ducks. Tragic.

11:53 – thoughts now turning to PMQs. David Cameron has an open goal today with the latest Labour sleaze allegations. But Brown will deflect because of the sole dodgy Tory in the mix. And then accuse him of not talking about policy. Net result will be lots of sound bites, lots of guffawing, lots of interventions from Mr Speaker… but no change in the polls. No one cares.

11:57 – Sky News in analysis mode. BBC News in “emotive strings over graphics mode” showing the economic changes since 1997. Guess which one I’ve got on…

12:01 – PMQs underway with the usual tributes to the fallen. That’s the cue to switch to BBC Parliament for uninterrupted coverage. I find the “commentary” interjections on BBC2 rather irritating.

12:02 – this faff over defence spending is appallingly dull. Inter-year spending, who cares. The general trend is indeed a real terms rise. Splitting hairs from politicians, what a surprise.

12:05 – Cameron begins with a tedious joke about today’s civil servants strike. This stuff doesn’t resonate, as we all know, but we do it anyway.

12:06 – gold sales for question 2. Pretty hard to know where the top of the market is. I suspect we can go back centuries and work out where gold sales lost the country money. Fucking load of rubbish.

12:07 – Cameron persists, refocusing on Labour trying to cover up their incompetence. Better line, but Brown deflects again.

12:09 – Question 4, Cameron carrying on. He should have given up. There must be other issues to talk about. Oh my.

12:10 – Question 5, Cameron delivering the soundbites, the same things he’s repeated for years now. Another joke. Killing time. No question. Brown gets his chance to redeliver every sound bite he’s already said about Labour’s “success” over the years. Cameron has lost badly here. No Question 6? Maybe I miscounted…

12:12 – Nick Clegg gets his turn. Going on political corruption, the great elephant in the room. Accusing the others of blocking reform. Brown going softly. He knows what the polls are saying. Hung parliament, anyone?

12:13 – Clegg’s second go is the laundry list of failed attempts to remove corruption. Silly Tory MPs continue shouting about “Michael Brown” as they have for weeks now. Yes, let’s fling shit and ignore the failures of this Parliament.

12:15 – whip’s handout questions shall now commence.

12:17 – Gordon Brown can’t wait to be remembered for the result of the next election, apparently. I share his excitement about what lies ahead!

12:19 – Brown repeats his warning about the poor behaviour of the Tories regarding the BA cabin crew strike. It’s not becoming of a future government. No one wants another government antagonising the unions.

12:20 – sounds like mephedrone is to be banned before the election. Hmm…

12:23 – it’s curious how Bob Spink has become a real backer of Gordon Brown since his departure from the Tory Party.

12:27 – PMQs petering out. Alistair Darling is itching to go…

12:30 – Ian Paisley getting a swansong, in which he even referred to Norn Iron as “the North of Ireland”. Gerry Adams would be pleased. Unless I misheard again. Could hear a pindrop in the House. Brown offers glowing tribute.

12:32 – Budget underway. Speaker makes way for the Chairman of Ways and Means. Hurrah.

12:34 – Alistair Darling giving himself and his government a pat on the back for guiding the economy through and out of recession. This is going to be the Labour line in the election.

12:35 – Darling’s introduction promises a few billion of goodies.

12:37 – Budget Days are all about narrative. Darling has just set out his stall as to how the British economy has weathered the storm. No measures announced yet.

12:39 – it is disappointing that the government will not pledge to keep one of the banks we own in public hands. The sector needs to be kept honest. Darling pledges any future sell offs will recoup all money invested. That was always going to be the case, but the headlines have always been about what the government was “losing” by nationalising these banks.

12:42 – Darling sticking to his guns on an international tax agreement on banking. Attacking the Tory line of Britain doing it unilaterally. Darling is right, but will the agreement happen?

12:45 – Darling using this free airtime as a chance to deliver a party political broadcast. Politicians never miss an opportunity, do they.

12:47 – joyous talk about automatic stablisers, without the word being mentioned. Lots of tinkering with tax credits underway. Talk of retirement age limits and young people’s unemployment. Hmm.

12:49 – the numbers are flowing thick and fast now. These minor little tinkerings don’t sound much, but they are going to make a difference to the things Labour can say in the campaign. Stamp duty is the big change here. First time buyers getting a big help…

12:51 – Labour backbenches enjoying the stamp duty change, with a redistribution of the tax on houses over £1m. Tories enjoying the fact that the policy has been stolen from them. ISAs now getting some adjustments to encourage more saving.

12:52 – the forecasts, what everyone wants to hear. How optimistic is the pessimistic Darling going to be? Answer: not very. A minor adjustment to next year. This year unchanged. The future is bright, says the Chancellor. Well, he didn’t, but he could have.

12:55 – now the borrowing numbers. Darling talks about the greater tax take he’s enjoyed lately. Borrowing forecast this year down. Lots of jeers, naturally; these numbers are still high.

12:57 – still many years of borrowing to come. Darling pledges Labour will indeed achieve the deficit halving pledge in the next several years. But there’s no numbers yet as to how on Earth this deficit cut is achieved. Spending cuts, for sure. But he’s not admitting it. Tory frontbench frantically crunching numbers for their response.

13:00 – spending cuts mentioned. Of course, no cutting “now”, which implies lots of cutting later. It has to be, in order to achieve the deficit reduction strategy.

13:01 – tax rises being mentioned, but they’ve all been announced before. Darling insisting these tax rises are not “ideological”. “Those who have benefited the most from the growth should now contribute” – or words to that effect.

13:02 – “sin tax” changes underway. Alcohol and cigarettes taking a little pounding, but particularly cider. Put the Scrumpy Jack away.

13:03 – inheritance tax thresholds to be frozen for the next four years. Very good. Darling clearly aiming that one at the Tories.

13:06 – Darling is apparently going to deliver a range of goodies in the public services over the next few years. But no real cuts to the budgets have been announced. This is voodoo economics.

13:07 – Darling is deferring most of the tough decision to after the election, in the Comprehensive Spending Review. The only thing he’s prepared to talk about is “efficiency savings” and waste. The magic bullet. It’ll never happen.

13:09 – Lots of public sector staff in jeopardy; definitely going to be moved out of London, at least. The bad part about it: endless civil service jaunts to London at taxpayer’s expense for “meetings”. A wave of privatisations is to begin too, by the sounds of it.

13:11 – now discussing growth, and how that will help cure all our financial woes. But just how much consumption can the world sustain? Bye bye, environment.

13:13 – goodies for investing in businesses. A public “investment bank” by the sounds of it. Sounds a bit like a Lib Dem idea, except I think we wanted it to be “green”.

13:18 – lots more investment in public infrastructure underway. That’s a lot of money. But it’s essential, really, if we’re to have any hope of sustaining economic growth in the future. Good old cost-benefit analysis.

13:20 – the broadband tax is confirmed.

13:21 – not a long Budget speech, by any means, but we’re now into the usual ending territory of recent years. But no signs of a finish yet.

13:22 – special attention going to be paid to the computer games sector. That is impressive; the pols have spotted how much money this sector could make the economy through its massive exporting (USA, Far East, Europe). They never miss a trick, do they.

13:24 – Darling insists universities are going to foot the bill for the rising amount of students.

13:26 – Ashcroft is implied as Darling talks about tax avoidance/evasion. Labour benches loving it, especially an agreement with Belize on tax dodging. Cameron/Osborne refusing to look up from their furious scribbling. Labour MPs very excited, begging for more.

13:29 – creeping up to an hour, and Darling is releasing the goodies now, pension increases, child tax credits, personal tax allowances for the old dears (who vote) going up, Winter Fuel payment to be sustained at the higher levels of recent years. We Love Pensioners! Especially Those Who Vote Labour!

13:30 – think it’s ending, with more political posturing. Laying out the election choice. Think Darling has done a decent job, but we’ll see what Osborne has to say…

13:32 – Tories in feisty mood. Cameron taking credit for the stamp duty cut.

13:33 – Cameron, freed from the shackles of having to ask questions, is going on the big messages. Perhaps that’s why he didn’t bother at PMQs.

13:35 – going at a rate of knots. Spending, cuts, deficits, debt, bloat, taxes, Britain closed for business. Cameron calling for an election to put Labour out of their misery.

13:36 – Cameron’s Budget Bashing is well underway. The numbers they’ve been scribbling down are all flowing out. It’s all good for the cameras, but is anyone listening? The end soundbites are what we’re after. They will indicate where we’re going in the next six weeks…

13:39 – Tories are cheered up by Cameron’s jokes. But not by the numbers. Feigned indignation all round.

13:40 – a few years ago Cameron did a Budget response that was impetuous and arrogant. This is reminding me of it.

13:41 – Cameron hurling allegations at Brown and Darling about their forthcoming consultancy fees. Childish.

13:43 – Tories planning on giving more power to quangos, a new one to manage budgeting forecasts. Oh dear.

13:45 – here come the soundbites. They’re being rattled off at incredible speed. Lots of one-liners too. I think William Hague wrote this Budget response.

13:46 – Cameron promising a radical change of direction. New leadership, new energy… stirring stuff to the Tory benches. It’s not gonna be that easy for him.

13:47 – Clegg’s turn. A reminder of the government’s failure. BBC and Sky News have abandoned Mr Clegg’s response, to be shown later. Isn’t it just as well the coverage rules change when the election begins?

13:49 – Clegg pointing out the lack of detail on spending cuts. Spot on.

13:50 – Clegg won’t spend on a “like for like” replacement of Trident. That’s not the same as not spending on a nuclear ‘deterrent’ at all.

13:53 – 8m economically inactive, says Clegg. Does that include people like me, able to sit around writing about a Budget that no one cares about, to no readers? 🙂

13:55 – Clegg rattling through his statement too. Perhaps he’s worked out no one is watching.

13:57 – the message on tax thresholds is going to be the Lib Dems’ big message at the election. Fairness to be the central idea. I just hope it’s all fully costed, or it will unravel very quickly at a time when the nation will be paying the most attention to us.

13:58 – Clegg concludes, “this Budget is the old politics”. Maybe. And there was the sound bite for the news programs, if they ever show it.

14:01 – Mandy in his usual form on BBC News. Looking forward to outlining his package of savings, it seems.

14:03 – Mandy and Iain Duncan Smith arguing very forcefully with each other. Charles Kennedy trying to pin down Mandelson, but he’s a slippery character…

14:05 – BBC journos enjoying tearing the fine detail of the Budget apart. This is going to happen over the next few days; can Labour survive it? Previous Budget experience would suggest not.

14:08 – Nick Robinson emphasising the pointlessness of this Budget. Hey, I told you that at the start of this post!

14:17 – with the BBC and Sky News now in full pointlessness mode, regarding how the Budget affects YOU and what your tweets have to say about it, that seems a good point to conclude.

Overall, the whole damn thing might as well have been a pre-recorded election statement. Budgets don’t really have the allure they used to. No major goodies, but a few things to talk about. Meanwhile, the Tories and Lib Dems will be able to carry on hammering their usual messages.

Roll on May 6.

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The World Economy Stares Into The Abyss. Again.

Posted by The Futility Monster on February 13, 2010 @ 09:46

Not quite sure how much more we can put onto these...

It’s a shame to once again be talking about the dangers facing the economic future of the planet again, but there is something extremely unsettling about what’s going on at the moment.

Recession has ended across the planet, thanks largely to unprecedented fiscal expansions across the globe. Deficit spending has saved us from serious meltdown; but it was combined with extraordinary levels of intervention to nationalise vast waves of the banking sector, which are now entirely dependent on the government.

The problem is that, in the background, the private sector is still terribly nervous about prospects. They’re starting to realise that governments – while they may be the lender of last resort, and will do all they can to ensure their own economies avoid the worst – do not have infinite reserves of cash.

And so attention has turned to Europe, particularly Greece, Spain, Portugal, Ireland, Italy and, yes, the UK.

Our levels of debt are already high, and the projected borrowing into future years just keeps on going. In many countries, it will be ages before budgets are balanced again.

The banks, already being propped up by vast levels of government support, are starting to worry about the solvency of the very governments that have got them through these perilous times. They’re beginning to panic: if the governments default, are we not all back in the shitter again?

The answer is obvious.

The more realistic question though is will it happen?

It seems extraordinarily unlikely that a sovereign nation would be allowed to default these days. Certainly not within the EU, when the treaties suggest that fellow member states have an obligation to help them out. But we all know these treaties can be ignored. And, let’s face it, if 26 member states decide to leave the other one out in the cold, there’s going to be little the isolated member can do.

But therein lies the problem. It’s not just one state. It’s six. You could conceive of a situation where the EU lets one of its members default on its debt, particularly a smaller one. But when there are six, one default will spook the markets to such an extent that the other five will become toxic, and Britain would get junk status quicker than you can say Morgan Stanley Dean Witter card.

This is yet another defining moment in the history of the world economy. If the EU bails out Greece, the begging bowl will soon get passed around, and years of “moral hazard” preaching go down the toilet. If the EU doesn’t bail out Greece, the repercussions will be just as severe.

I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again, this really isn’t a good election to win…

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Labour Builds A Strawman

Posted by The Futility Monster on September 4, 2009 @ 06:30

I was toying with a picture of Worzel Gummidge, but I wasn't sure if people would remember him. In any case, he used to scare the hell out of me.

I was toying with a picture of Worzel Gummidge, but I wasn't sure if people would remember him. In any case, he used to scare the hell out of me.

When I first read about the “plan” to slash health spending on frontline staff yesterday I didn’t really think all that much about it. It was just another contribution to the debate.

But with hindsight, I was wrong.

It’s all so convenient. Government department asks management consultants (evil, evil people!) to come up with ways of saving money. Management consultants (who are evil, by the way) co-incidentally suggest cutting 10% (heard that number before?) off the budget. But not just any old cut – a cut directly on the frontline staff. Labour government rejects the plan. Then they take the credit for rejecting something that only really existed in the mind of a PR man/woman.

Now, excuse my cynicism, but it all just fits together too nicely. Labour gets a chance to rail against management consultants, whom no one has a favourable opinion of, and also gets the very fortunate opportunity to talk about their real plans to defend the health service from cuts as a result. Oh, and by the way, they also get to talk about the 10% cuts figure again… subconsciously planting the idea, once more, that the Tory plan is going to be bad. Even better, it now associates the Tory plan with management consultants.

If that all seems a bit too stretched, too much to believe, then I think you may be a touch naive. Politicians in this day and age plan media attacks to the letter, co-ordinating them with any compliant media they can get their hands on. Obfuscating the neutrality of the attack by using think tanks, pressure groups and so-called “independent” reports from experts or inquiries is also an essential part of the strategy.

In this case, it was a clever leak to the Health Service Journal. Note that the BBC article implies that the government also invited other management consultants to suggest ideas for savings. How come they haven’t been leaked too? Why cherrypick the 10% one for the spin exercise? Well, it’s obvious now isn’t it.

What this story does suggest though is that Labour still haven’t got it. Contrary to recent expectations that we are over the worst of it, the British economy is still in crisis. The government is going to have to borrow more than it predicted, saddling us with even greater debt, a burden to be passed on to future generations – all at a bad time when the costs of the public sector, and the pension and benefits systems, are just overwhelming.

But even if we accept this story at face value, the conclusion is that Labour is indeed planning for significant cuts in services. That’s somewhat contrary to their public image of Labour investment vs Tory cuts.

Either way: Labour’s demise continues.

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Why Cameron Needs A Landslide

Posted by The Futility Monster on August 17, 2009 @ 08:35

Sign on, sign on, with hope in your hearts; and you'll never find a job...

Sign on, sign on, with hope in your hearts; and you'll never find a job...

This morning The Times has an interesting story which has potentially damaging repercussions for any Conservative government.

They report that if their plans for moving some people from incapacity benefit onto the dole queue is put into action, it will result in unemployment figures of some 4m or so.

To me, what this illustrates is a much wider picture. If the economy is still struggling in 2010, job losses will be continuing anyway. Who knows what unemployment will reach before the next election; though Labour will try their hardest – by any means necessary – to keep it below the symbolic 3m mark.

Other countries have been departing recession in the past month or so, and Japan is now the latest. We won’t be far behind… but there remains a substantial worry that what we’re currently seeing is the dreaded “double dip” recession, i.e. that once the government stimulus spending, whether funded by deficits or surpluses, has worked its way through the system, there will be nothing left to sustain it. After all, the public sector can’t continue to grow if the private sector is shrinking, as there won’t be sufficient tax basis to fund any more public spending.

With that in mind, there are still huge unknowns on the horizon. If the economy is poor, but Labour somehow manage to run a good campaign and stem the Tory tide to no more than 100 seats, we’ll see a hung Parliament situation. Cameron may well emerge triumphant from such a scenario, all depending on what the Lib Dems do.

But if he does, and he either leads a minority government, or has a wafer thin majority, it’s going to make the next Parliament extremely fragile.

If the economic bad news continues to pile up, the pressure will become extraordinary. Labour will be able to accuse the Conservatives of inexperience and making the recession into a depression. Of course, it will sound hypocritical, but voters are rather impatient. In those circumstances, we could easily see another General Election, with a new Labour leader, and a very uncertain outcome.

Alternatively, Cameron may be seen to be handling it well. But, if I were him, I would be looking to call another election quickly anyway, to enhance that majority. But that’s always a risky gamble…

Either way, it’s a potential headache for the Tories. After all, no one wants to be forced into an election. Or even pick a fight they aren’t sure they’re going to win. See Gordon Brown in September 2007 for proof.

The solution is a thumping great win which will remove any doubt that Cameron has the ability to ride out any further storms and give him a large degree of moral legitimacy.

The Tories will win next time. The only question is the one it has been for years now: how big will it be?

For Cameron it needs to be big.

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Cable, So Able?

Posted by The Futility Monster on June 28, 2009 @ 19:41

Somehow the glasses make this picture even better...

Somehow the glasses make this picture even better...

What makes being a politico so difficult is how hard it is to be honest with the mass public. A certain sense of this is understandable. Half the time journalists ask questions which are impossible to answer directly, because they’re obviously designed to make a fool of you.

But other times, politicians take this natural wariness (cynicism?) of what journalists are up to and extend it to ridiculous proportions. Gordon Brown is a fine example of this. But I think I’ve done enough of a hatchet job on him lately.

Instead I’m going to turn my attention to a certain Mr Cable. Yes – that prophet of modern politics, the man who correctly predicted the housing bubble, the overleveraging of debt on business, and, in my humble opinion, has consistently made the right call on what the best response should be to the financial crisis that has been with us for almost two years now.

He has become something of a go-to man for the media, whenever they’re in need of a bit of rent-a-quote to stand up a reasoned critique of a government policy, in stark contrast to when George Osborne is wheeled out… with normally something straight from the “How To Win Elections” PR guidebook. In other words – it sounds good, and is specifically targeted at this 800,000 key people who live in the only constituencies that matter (more on that some other time), but I always get the sense there’s something missing.

This morning, Vince Cable was on The Andrew Marr show talking about the thorny issue of public spending: you know, the one that’s been boring us to tears for the past few weeks over 10% this, 10% that.

Us Lib Dems often have a little more freedom to talk about what we want. If the opposition is being unkind that’ll be because they say we’ll never get in power – so it doesn’t matter what we say. Touché. But, at the same time, as we saw over the Gurkhas issue – if enough people are prepared to stand for what is right – the Lib Dems can indeed have influence.

And since we now have the luxury of a figure with the reputation of Vince Cable, we have to spend it wisely. Unfortunately, this will probably mean the electorate is provided with yet another politician who steps back from the brink of telling the truth.

He talked today about cutting ID cards, the NHS IT project, even Trident. All very good. But I think in his heart of hearts he will know that it’s just not enough. Not with the ageing population and the huge and rising costs of not just public sector pensions but the state pension too.

Everyone knows the economy is well and truly buggered if current spending and borrowing continues. A spending slash is required at some point. Maybe not next year – as to do so would significantly undermine the tentative steps towards recovery. But the following year and then for a very long time beyond… we’re going to have to pay off the debt somehow.

But to talk in such stark terms, that health, education, defence, transport… even welfare benefits… are going to have to be pegged back significantly. That’s political suicide.

To sum up: on the one hand, you have a public that complains about their politicians not being able to give them the truth. But, do you think for one second that the public would reward a politician talking as if the world was about to end, and that you really do need to pay more taxes – oh, and by the way, we’ll be cutting your benefits and public spending?

Of course not.

Unfortunately, I don’t think even the Able Mr Cable can square this particular circle.

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